It’s been about a week since Texas released its first “what-if” A through F grades for school districts and schools — a measure adopted by the last Texas legislature, ostensibly as a way to tell parents how their district and schools were doing.
And in that time, 219-and-counting school districts have adopted resolutions against it. Why? Largely because even typically high-performing schools are getting Ds and Fs in at least one of the categories that formed the overall grade. For instance, the Highland Park Independent School District, where nearly every kid goes to college and the overall tally of scholarship dollars earned by a graduating class is routinely worked into the commencement speeches, scored a C for postsecondary readiness.
Dallas ISD earned a B in the same category. In addition, the district earned a D in student performance and Bs in student progress and closing the achievement gaps between poor students and their peers. The district earned a B overall.
Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa further pointed out the inequities in the grading system by citing the ratings for Dade Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School.
Woodrow is considered by most to be one of Dallas ISD’s top performing non-magnet high schools. But it got Cs across the board. Dade, which has been a low-performing school, but has shown tremendous strides and according to the state’s old metrics, is showing real promise. But it received two Fs, a C, and a D.
“I think this is just going to create more confusion for everyone — the board members, parents, the community,” Hinojosa told the Dallas Morning News. “But that’s what’s going to happen when you try to give a simple solution to a complex issue.”
“I don’t feel the A-F system will give parents and community members anything close to an accurate idea of how schools are performing,” Richardson ISD superintendent Jeannie Stone said in a statement. “Assigning a letter grade, based substantially on the outcome of a standardized test taken on one day of the year, simply can’t capture the year-long efforts of students, teachers, principals and everyone who supports teaching and learning.”
“Entire schools and communities will be painted with the brush of a single letter grade, even though individual students perform across a wide range of achievement levels on a number of different indicators,” she continued.
Texas Education Agency head Mike Morath (who was a Dallas ISD school board trustee prior to accepting Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointment to the agency) insists the metrics are a work in progress. The actual system — and its grades — won’t be in effect for another year. And to be fair, the agency is tasked with doing something concocted in the Texas Legislature by lawmakers during the last session — it’s not as if Morath woke up one morning and decided to create a rating system that pretty much everyone hates.
“Surely, Bethany, you’re speaking in hyperbole here. Everyone?” you’re asking at this point.
No. I wish I was. But yes, pretty much everyone. As I mentioned prior, the list of school districts adopting resolutions against the system grows daily. My inbox bears this out.
Denton ISD school board member Charles Stafford — who is also the president of the Texas Association of School Boards — said that in addition to hurting low-performing schools who are making strides to improve, the rankings hurt even people without children attending public school. Denton ISD’s school board has also adopted a resolution against the system.
“I see people on a regular basis who refuse to buy homes where a school is rated average,” Stafford told the Denton Record-Chronicle, adding that the ratings could ultimately hurt property values.
All of the superintendents in the Region 10 Education Service Center (which represents 80 school districts in the North Texas area) have named repealing the A-F system part of their legislative priorities for this session. Six school districts in the Lufkin area penned a joint op-ed voicing their opposition to the system. Kevin Rogers, Lewisville ISD superintendent, also voiced his opposition in a newspaper column.
“Our concern is that the A-F rating system, in contrast to the legislation’s intent, actually gives far less information to parents and community than the system that it was designed to replace,” Helen Williams, Red Oak ISD’s communication director, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Grand Prairie ISD released a statement saying that while they appreciate accountability, “… perhaps we should follow the example of our nation’s medical schools and adhere to a principle of primum non nocere or ‘first, do no harm.’ We believe this system could both mislead the public about its schools and, at worst, hurt children.”
Now for my hot sports opinion: This system is a long con. It was designed not to provide accountability (we already had a great system that tells you if your school meets standard or not, and whether it’s distinguishing itself on any number of metrics), but to tee up a greater goal of THIS legislative session — school vouchers (which, by the way, doesn’t actually work like he says it does and I’ll talk more about that next week).
See, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already telegraphed as much. And he’s also said he doesn’t care what your school district thinks. He probably doesn’t even care what you think. He needed this ranking system so he could wave it around, Professor Harold Hill style, and tell you there is Trouble with a Capital T in public education, and the only way to fix it is by giving those schools even less money to work with and actively encouraging people to go to a private school with your tax money.
What he won’t tell you is this: Those private schools aren’t required to offer things like special ed. They’re not required to offer free and reduced lunch. They’re not required to offer free tutoring after school. They’re not required to offer free after school care. They’re not required to assist a homeless student population. They’re not required to teach refugee children a new language and have them be proficient in that language on a deadline. They’re not required to offer free transportation to school.
But your local public school is required to do so by law. And when you take that funding from them to do those things and give it to private schools, you are robbing those students. And I’m not anti-private school. Nor am I anti-school choice — Dallas ISD has a robust school choice program, and my child is the beneficiary of that.
Listen, I’m all for rigor. But let’s do it right. Let’s scrap the high-stakes test mentality that looks at the school but fails to drill down to the student. Let’s give the achievement gap progress a district makes more weight than the STAAR, and give post-secondary readiness more value than we currently do, too.
Public education isn’t about numbers on a Scantron sheet. It’s about the value society sees in an educated electorate, populace, and workforce. And if your lawmakers are working against public education, they’re working against all of that. That, to me, is wholly unamerican.
Oh, and one more thing private schools aren’t required to abide? An A-F rating system.
Want to know how your school or school district fared? The Dallas Morning News has a great tool to check.